America after the Drop-off: Painting in the 1930 s inspect- beauty abide of misery

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This unmissable show is a time vessel of 1930 s America, from the Dust Bowl to Jean Harlow at the movies

A gigantic carry of Wrigleys gum wavers like a Zeppelin before the Manhattan skyline. The sky is sunny cobalt, the East river lies tranquil below. Here is the perfect gum( or so the slogan boastings) in an ideal imagination where everything is reduced to pristine rectangles, from the rising skyscrapers to the gum to the abstract thoughtfulness. Pop fused with minimalism three decades in advance: what a careening start to this show.

Charles G Shaw, otherwise known as one of the Park Avenue cubists, is not a mention on everyones lips. Indeed the majority of members of America After the Descent: Paint in the 1930 s comes as a revealing , not least because so little tasks have toured outside the US before. This is our first chance to see Grant Woods nightmarishly exuberant vehicle crash, in which a scarlet truck boomings over the hill towards an impending pile-up, or his great American Gothic , the long-faced pair standing sentinel before their famous wooden home.

Death on the Ridge Road, 1935 by Grant Wood. Image: Accumulation of Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts

And who has come across Alexandre Hogues Mother Earth Laid Bare , in which the raped scenery lies dead in the dust, all her dark-green wears weeping away; or O Louis Guglielmis presentiment of Brooklyn Bridge as a shattered rubble? A woman baby-sit perplexed on one of its mangled struts, an unexploded rocket in her back. It is 1938: Roosevelt is prophesying war.

This show lopes from the Great Depression to the onset of the second world war. Prolonged drought and relentless breeze scourged the prairies, leaving them barren. Poverty-stricken farmers fled the Dust Bowl more than a million people displaced in Oklahoma alone. Municipalities expanded to take in state migrants and refugees from socialist, fascist and Nazi Europe. It was a horrible decade for America, and yet evidently great for its painting.

America after the Fall exhibition video

In the truest feel, these works are clues of the times. They view an entire American decade intact with their personas of plants, piers, gas pumps and turbines, of new skyscrapers heroically silhouetted against midwestern skies, and cities on slopes radiant with limelight. Sailors take shore leave with Lucky Strikes and indecent squints; stenographers crowd around the new hair salon; black roustabouts lug coal on the waterfront for the purposes of the white bosss pitiless eye.

In Philip Evergoods Dance Marathon , the living dead finalists are only just supporting each other up as a skeleton dangles the prize money from its bony fingers. The New Yorkers in Reginald Marshs In Fourteenth Street pour out of the metro looking for love, and quite possibly Antoines permanent waves at $1.75. In Marshs Twenty Cent Movie , girls in flimsies wait for their dates beneath signs for Dangerous Swerves A drama of human excitements STRIPPED BARE. Billboards teem in the sulphurous light.

This is committed realism by comparison with Edward Hoppers strange New York Movie : the usherette alone in her half-lit boundary by the departure while the crowds watch some murky black-and-white movie( Frank Capras Lost Horizon , in accordance with the shows vigilant curators ). Shadows move across the screen and through her center, as it seems, this lone person lost in the city.

William H Johnsons Street Life, Harlem, 1939. Picture: 2017. Photo Smithsonian American Art Museum/ Art Resource/ Scala, Florence

This is as much a show of history paint as Revolution: Russian Prowes 1917 -1 932, its timely companion at the Royal Academy. But it also presents, as never before, the excellent variety of Americas 30 s avant garde. In one gallery alone you are able to jump from Hopper to OKeeffe to the quasi-abstract precisionists, early Jackson Pollock, political Philip Guston and the thick impasto of William H Johnsons post-cubist couple beneath a chunky Harlem moon.

Several of these painters had been to Europe. Stuart Daviss New York: Paris No 3 is a dazzling run, brilliantly designed in all its syncopated flatness. But despite the deed, it accompanies little back from France. In Daviss transglobal streetscape, Paris is nothing but an old-fashioned inn publicize Vins compared to the America of glistening gas station, signposts, mailboxes, high-rises, soaring jet-blacks and sheer graphic zip. America is magnificently new.

This picture was acquired in 1931, the year The Star-Spangled Banner became Americas national chant and Charles Demuth acquired its lyrics for And the Home of the Brave . This view of a modern plant makes a formidably suave geometry of the chilling tower, telephone pole, spaces and light-footeds, all summarised as an display of perceptive airplanes and curves. Streamlined, hard-edged and sumptuous, its a chant to the industrial age.

Hanging next to it is Charles Sheelers legendary American Landscape , in which the Ford Motor factory seems luminous and solidified as a Seurat( minus the pointillism ). Sheeler is just as exacting as Demuth, but there is a clue of spiritual solitude in his magnificently silent panorama, devoid of all human presence bar a scurrying fleck. After the gate-crash of 1929, Henry Ford fired thousands of workers and set machine guns against objectors at the factory gates.

American Landscape, 1930 by Charles Sheeler: splendidly silent. Photograph: Museum of Modern Art, New York/ Scala, Florence

Superbly curated by the Art Institute of Chicago, this is a show of ever-changing visions, natures, ideas and forms. It is also perfectly choreographed so that the poor black cotton pickers of Thomas Hart Benton appear in direct contrast to Grant Woods joyous white sharecroppers, say, and the gothic openings in Paul Samples Church Supper speak straight to the window in Woods American Gothic .

It is only when you accompany Groves masterpiece surrounded by contemporary epitomes of vacated farms and rural devastation that its down-home, backward-looking quaintness rightfully registries. And what a beautiful paint it is: linear as a Botticelli and so radiantly clear.

In a establish full of fiercely trenchant paints Alice Neels gallant painting of trade unions organiser Pat Whalen, fists carrying down on the newspaper headlines; Mussolini as a green-faced jack-in-a-box; Gustons sickening Guernica tondo Woods lyrical ruralism still maintains its own. The king and princes of the midwest, their dwelling a clapboard castle, his pitchfork a sceptre.

Linear as a Botticelli: Grant Woods American Gothic, 1930. Picture: The Art Institute of Chicago

America After the Fall is nothing less than a condensed museum of artistry , not to be missed by anyone with the slightest interest in painting. And each labor feels equally succinct. Easel paintings, on a small and human proportion, they nonetheless include the essence of 30 s America, from the Thanksgiving turkey to the Ku Klux Klan to Jean Harlow at the movies.

Most emblematic of all, perhaps, is Edward Hoppers Gas , in which a lonely flesh mans a filling station in the midst of nowhere. Hes putting the spout back, hes staring into the dial, hes falling apart: who is familiar with? The garage stands empty, its light-colored malevolent as the nightfall derive over the lumbers, foreshadowing a thousand movies. The urban past satisfies the industrial future in this imagination of a lone American lost out there in the spreading vastness.

America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930 s is at the Royal Academy, London until 4 June

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